Horde, Enclave, Book Three
In HORDE, the fast-paced conclusion to the Razorland trilogy, author Ann Aguirre delivers a dark and frightening war story about one girl determined to save her fellow living humans from roving zombies because she can’t bring herself to do anything less.
Deuce grew up underground in the aftermath of nuclear warfare and has only recently emerged aboveground. Humans have either become zombies or the quarry of zombies. They live divided in small enclaves, each contributing some service to benefit the group and keeping as many of their own alive as possible. These remaining humans call the zombies “Freaks” and barricade their settlements against wandering bands and the larger, menacing horde.
"In a marketplace busy with dystopian stories, HORDE distinguishes itself with its satisfying character arcs, slow-build romance, and a protagonist who teaches herself how to lead."
When we meet Deuce again, she is coping with the loss of her aboveground home, Salvation. During the siege of the settlement, the Freaks managed to steal fire from the living humans. Besides this, Deuce finds that some of the Freaks she encounters smell less fetid and seem more aware than the mindless monsters she fought before. These Freaks seem to express sadness when one of their group dies in battle, which gives Deuce pause when engaging them in combat.
But she still fights them. Brutally and often. Aguirre’s action sequences are plentiful, and she keeps them short and character-driven to stave off concerns of pacing morasses that sometimes plague the written action sequence. Combat scenes earlier in the book may be more difficult to invest in if the reader is unfamiliar with the characters, but Aguirre quickly proves that the stakes are high by killing a minor but emotionally significant character in one of the first battles.
Aguirre deftly maneuvers each major character through a highly satisfying arc. Fade, Deuce’s love interest, is overcoming his abusive past and learning to trust and enjoy physical touch again. Tegan, Deuce’s good friend, is gaining confidence in her abilities, both as a healer and, when necessary, as a fighter. Stalker is moving away from his immoral past and learning about the rewards of loyalty to a group, even if that does not involve Deuce’s romantic affection.
Deuce is learning what it means to be a leader. She is constantly asking the question, “What can I do?” She is surprised when another character asks her why she is taking so much responsibility upon herself, and she tells him that she could not imagine doing nothing. She sees a need, and she aims to fill it. Soon, she hopes that humans will once again be able to travel freely through the world, unthreatened by the horde of Freaks that keep people cooped up behind barricades in their isolated communities.
While assuming her role as a leader of the living humans, she also begins to reconcile her seemingly opposing impulses toward being a Huntress and being a Breeder. Deuce’s society distinguishes between Huntresses, women who pursue militaristic activities, and Breeders, women who become mothers. Deuce feels more deeply than she thinks a Huntress should, and she wants to have sex with Fade, which might mean having children someday. Neither of these thoughts repels her, and she begins to come to terms with the fact that it is okay to fulfill both roles, if she chooses.
The reader will enjoy watching Deuce figure out the cultural references aboveground. She is confused by concepts such as currency and surnames. She is becoming part of an adoptive family, and her scenes with her loving Momma Oaks are some of the most poignant in the book. She learns about the concept of bias, and this spurs her to seek the most complete version of the truth about the Freaks. Look out for a quick allusion to Harry Potter.
In her budding relationship with Fade, Deuce plays the role of both protector and protected. Aguirre manages to get this balance just right. The previous book’s finale involved Deuce saving Fade’s life in a daring rescue mission. Both are exceptional fighters, and each saves the other in physical confrontation. Fade’s abusive past makes him anxious about physical touch. Deuce’s patience and empathy prove the depth of her feelings for him and heighten the significance of every touch that they share. Some of the most memorable lines in the book come from their exchanges.
Although readers picking up the series at book three may take a while to settle into the story, longtime readers will welcome their favorite characters from the beginning. In a marketplace busy with dystopian stories, HORDE distinguishes itself with its satisfying character arcs, slow-build romance, and a protagonist who teaches herself how to lead.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on October 29, 2013